Larry Downes: “U.S. Digital Infrastructure Needs More Private Investment” (HBR)

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Harvard Business Review
There’s an urgent need to invest in America’s crumbling infrastructure. Even our politicians agree on that. As anyone who has driven a car, ridden a train, turned on the tap, or lost power during a minor storm can tell you, we’ve fallen desperately behind in maintenance, to say nothing of improvements. The latest “report card” from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. an overall grade of D+ for everything from roads and bridges to water systems, ports, public transit, power grids, and schools, estimating that just making critical repairs would cost over $3.5 trillion. Our presidential hopefuls are making their cases on the matter. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Hillary Clinton plans to spend $250 billion to create a national infrastructure bank funded by increased corporate taxes. Donald Trump promises to double that amount, borrowing the necessary funds through government bonds. But the U.S.’s most recent experience with jump-starting infrastructure spending, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, suggests a third way to get the job done, one that both parties should be paying more attention to: encouraging more private investment in infrastructure. That’s especially true for digital infrastructure, which both ties together the country and supports connections — commercial, social, cultural — with the rest of the world.